The Bird Study Book

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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Bird Study Book, by Thomas Gilbert Pearson, Illustrated by Will Simmons This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: The Bird Study Book Author: Thomas Gilbert Pearson Release Date: April 8, 2007 [eBook #21007] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 ***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE BIRD STUDY BOOK*** E-text prepared by Al Haines Transcriber's note: The page numbers in the left margin are those in the original book. However, in this e-book, to avoid the splitting of paragraphs, the illustrations may have been moved to the page preceding or following. Wood Thrush The Bird Study Book By T. Gilbert Pearson Secretary, National Association of Audubon Societies Coloured Frontispiece Pen and ink drawings by Will Simmons And sixteen photographs Garden City ——— New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1917 Copyright, 1917, by DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian TO MY WIFE ELSIE WEATHERLY PEARSON {v} PREFACE This book has been written for the consideration of that ever-increasing class of Americans who are interested in acquiring a greater familiarity with the habits and activities of wild birds. There are many valuable publications treating more or less exhaustively of the classification of birds, as well as of form, colour, distribution, migration, songs, and foods. Here an attempt is made to place before the reader a brief consideration of these and many similar topics, and suggest lines of action and thought that may perhaps stimulate a fuller study of the subject. Attention is also given to the relation of birds to mankind and the effect of civilisation on the bird-life of the country. The book is not intended so much for the advanced student in ornithology, as for the beginner. Its purpose is to answer many of the questions that students in this charming field of outdoor study are constantly asking of those more advanced in bird-lore. In conformity with the custom employed during many years of college and summer-school teaching, the author has discussed numerous details of field observation, the importance of which is so often overlooked by writers on the subject. If one can, in the recounting of some experience that he has found interesting, awaken in the mind of a sympathetic hearer a desire to go forth and acquire a similar experience, then indeed may he regard himself as a worthy disciple of the immortal Pestalozzi. Let the teacher who would instruct pupils in bird-study first acquire, therefore, that love for the subject which is sure to come when one begins to learn the birds and observe their movements. This book, it is hoped, will aid such seekers after truth by the simple means of pointing out some of the interesting things that may be sought and readily found in the field and by the open road. In the preparation of this volume much valuable aid has been received from Messrs. E. W. Nelson, F. E. L. Beal, Wells W. Cooke, T. S. Palmer, H. C. Oberholser, and others of the United States Biological Survey, for which the author desires to make grateful acknowledgment. Parts of some of the chapters have previously appeared in the "Craftsman Magazine" and "Country Life in America," and are here reproduced by the courtesy of the editors. T. GILBERT PEARSON. {ix} CONTENTS PAGE v PREFACE CHAPTER I. FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE BIRDS Caution in Nest Hunting—Going Afield—Notebooks—Reporting Blanks—Bird Books—Movements of Birds—Artificial Cover in Hiding —The Umbrella Blind—Conclusion. II. THE LIFE ABOUT THE NEST Nest Hunting—Behaviour when Nest Is Discovered—Lessons to Be Learned—Character of Material Used—Nests in Holes—Variety of Locations—Variation in Families—Meagre Nests. III. DOMESTIC LIFE OF THE BIRDS Parental Care of Young—Sharing the Labours—Length of Mated Life —A Much-married Bluebird—The Faithful Canada Geese—Unmated Birds—Polygamy Among Birds—The Outcast. IV. THE MIGRATION OF BIRDS Moulting—Why Birds Migrate—The Gathering Flocks—The Usual Movement—The Travelling Shore Birds—The World's Migrating Champion—Perils of Migration—Keeping Migration Records. 3 21 42 61 V. THE BIRDS IN WINTER A Good Time for Field Walks—The Downy's Winter Quarters—Birds and the Night—The Food Question in Winter—When the Food Supply Fails—Wild Fowl Destroyed in the Oil Fields—Hunting Winter Birds. VI. THE ECONOMIC VALUE OF BIRDS A Government Report—Plagues of Insects—Some Useful Birds—The Question of the Weed Seeds—Dealing with the Rodent Pests—The Terror That Flies by Night—A Seldom Recognised Blessing. VII. CIVILIZATION'S EFFECT ON THE BIRD SUPPLY Number of Birds in the World—Number in the Different States —Increase of Farm-land Species—Effect of Forest Devastation —Commercializing Birds—Wild Pigeon—Ivory-billed Woodpecker —Labrador Duck—Great Auk—Eskimo Curlew. VIII. THE TRAFFIC IN FEATHERS War on the Sea Swallows—What the Ladies Wore—The Story of the Egrets—Amateur Feather Hunters—Maribou—Pheasants—Numidie —Goura—Women's Love for Feathers—Ostrich Feathers Are Desirable. IX. BIRD-PROTECTIVE LAWS AND THEIR ENFORCEMENT . . . HOW LAWS ARE MADE Definition of Game—Audubon Laws—Game Law Enforcement —Lacy Lava—Federal Migratory Bird Law—History of Game Laws —The Theory of Shiras—Work of the Bird Committee—Government Explanations—World's Only Bird Treaty. X. BIRD RESERVATIONS First Federal Bird Reservation—Congressional Sanction—Florida Reservations—Distant Reservations—President Taft a Bird Protectionist—Audubon Society Reservations—The Corkscrew Rookery—Wardens Shot by Plume Hunters. XI. MAKING BIRD SANCTUARIES Natural Nesting Places Destroyed—Nesting Boxes for Birds—Some Rules for Making and Erecting Bird Boxes—Sites of Bird Boxes —Feeding Birds—Community Sanctuaries—Birdcraft Sanctuary —Cemeteries as Bird Sanctuaries—A Birdless Cemetery—Birds of a New York Graveyard—Enemies to Be Eliminated—Berries and Fruit for Birds. XII. TEACHING BIRD STUDY Teaching Children—Junior Audubon Societies—Correlated Studies —Keeping Scrapbooks—Records of Migrants—Essays—Sending Old Nests to City Children—Audubon Prizes—Bird Day. {xiii} 82 101 120 140 167 190 214 239 LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Wood Thrush HALF-TONE CUTS A ferocious young Eagle Gannets nesting on the cliffs of Bonaventure Island, Gulf of St. Lawrence A male Plumbeous Gnatcatcher feeding young A mountain Bluebird family whose home has been destroyed Young Robins quarreling at their bath Feeding station for birds Snowy Egret shot on its feeding grounds Farallone Cormorants and White Pelicans on a Government Bird Reservation Window "Cafeteria" at home of Mrs. Granville Pike A Christmas dinner for the birds An Egret, bearing "aigrettes," in attendance on her young Egret brooding on a Florida island owned and guarded by the Audubon Society The Downy Woodpecker is fond of suet Members of a Junior Audubon class at Fergus Falls, Minnesota A California Hospital for injured birds Preparing for the coming of the birds LINE CUTS IN TEXT The fox that followed the footsteps Heads and feet of various birds Sample page of reporting-blank The umbrella blind Nest of the ruby-throated hummingbird Bald Eagle's eyrie Grebe or "water witch" Canada Geese decoys A greedy young Cowbird Migration routes of some North American birds Lighthouses cause the death of many birds Tired migrating birds often alight on ships Grouse "budding" in an apple tree Cuckoo raiding a tent of caterpillars Screech owl and its prey Passenger Pigeons are now extinct The Great Auk, now extinct Terns, formerly sought by the feather trade Frontispiece in color Facing Page 16 32 38 48 64 80 96 112 128 144 160 176 192 208 224 240 Page 7 11 13 18 30 32 37 52 58 71 76 79 88 111 115 127 133 144 Crowned Pigeon that furnishes the "goura" of the feather trade Migrative birds are protected by the Government The grotesque Wood Ibis Hungry young Egrets Cemented holes shut out the Chickadee Gourds and boxes for Martins A bird bath Coloring of birds upon outline drawings 159 172 208 210 216 219 235 257 {3} THE BIRD STUDY BOOK CHAPTER I FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE BIRDS It is in spring that wild birds make their strongest appeal to the human mind; in fact, the words "birds" and "spring" seem almost synonymous, so accustomed are we to associate one with the other. All the wild riotous singing, all the brave flashing of wings and tail, all the mad dashing in and out among the thickets or soaring upward above the tree-tops, are impelled by the perfectly natural instinct of mating and rearing young. And where, pray, dwells the soul so poor that it does not thrill in response to the appeals of the ardent lover, even if it be a bird, or feel sympathy upon beholding expressions of parental love and solicitude. Most people, therefore, are interested in such spring bird life as comes to their notice, the extent of this interest depending in part on their opportunity for observation, but more especially, perhaps, on their individual taste and liking for things out of doors. It would seem safe to assume that there is hardly any one who does not know by sight at least a few birds. Nearly every one in the eastern United States and Canada knows the Robin, Crow, and English Sparrow; in the South most people are acquainted with the Mockingbird and Turkey Buzzard; in California the House Finch is abundant about the towns and cities; and to the dwellers in the Prairie States the Meadowlark is very familiar. Taking such knowledge, however slight, as a basis, there is no reason why any one, if he so desires, should not, with a little effort, get on neighbourly terms with a large number of birds of the region, and spring is a most favourable time to begin such an effort. One may learn more about a bird's habits by closely observing its movements for a few hours at this season than by watching it for a month later on. The life that centres about the nest is most absorbing. Few sights are more stimulating to interest in outdoor life than spying on a pair of wild birds engaged in nest building. Nest hunting, therefore, soon becomes a part of the bird student's occupation, and I heartily recommend such a course to beginners, provided great care is exercised not to injure the nests and their contents. Caution in Nest Hunting.—A thoughtful person will, of course, be careful in approaching a wild bird's nest, otherwise much mischief may be done in a very short time. I have known "dainty eggs" and "darling baby-birds" to be literally visited to death by well-meaning people, {4} {5} with the best of intentions. The parents become discouraged by constantly recurring alarms and desert the nest, or a cat will follow the path made through the weeds and leave nothing in the nest worth observing. Even the bending of limbs, or the pushing aside of leaves, will produce a change in the surroundings, which, however slight, may be sufficient to draw the attention of some feathered enemy. {6} When one stumbles on the nest of a Quail, Meadowlark, or Oven-bird, it is well not to approach it closely, because all over the country many night-prowling animals have the habit of following by scent the footsteps of any one who has lately gone along through the woods or across the fields. One afternoon by the rarest chance I found three Quails' nests containing eggs. The next morning I took out a friend to share the pleasure of my discoveries. We found every nest destroyed and the eggs eaten. My trail the evening before lay through cultivated fields, and it was thus easy for us to find in the soft ground the tracks of the fox or small dog that, during the night, had followed the trail with calamitous results to the birds. When finding the nests I had made the mistake of going to within a few inches of them. Had I stopped six feet away the despoiler that followed probably never would have known there was a nest near, for unless a dog approaches within a very few feet of a brooding Quail it seems not to possess the power of smelling it. The Fox that Followed the Footsteps {7} {8} Going Afield.—It is rarely necessary to go far afield to begin the study of birds. Often one may get good views of birds from one's open window, as many species build their nests close to the house when the surroundings are favourable. Last spring I counted eighteen kinds of birds one morning while sitting on the veranda of a friend's house, and later found the nests of no less than seven of them within sight of the house. When one starts out to hunt birds it is well to bear in mind a few simple rules. The first of these is to go quietly. One's good sense would of course tell him not to rush headlong through the woods, talking loudly to a companion, stepping upon brittle twigs, and crashing through the underbrush. Go quietly, stopping to listen every few steps. Make no violent motions, as such actions often frighten a bird more than a noise. Do not wear brightly coloured clothing, but garments of neutral tones which blend well with the surroundings of field and wood. It is a good idea to sit silently for a time on some log or stump, and soon the birds will come about you, for they seldom notice {9} a person who is motionless. A great aid to field study is a good Field Glass. A glass enables one to see the colours of small birds hopping about the shrubbery, or moving through the branches of trees. With its aid one may learn much of their movements, and even observe the kind of food they consume. A very serviceable glass may be secured at a price varying from five to ten dollars. The National Association of Audubon Societies, New York City, sells a popular one for five dollars. If you choose a more expensive, high-powered binocular, it will be found of greater advantage when watching birds at a distance, as on a lake or at the seashore. Notebooks.—The bird student should early acquire the custom of making notes on such subjects as are of special interest. In listening to the song or call of some unknown bird, the notes can usually be written down in characters of human speech so that they may be recalled later with sufficient accuracy to identify the singer. It is well to keep a list of the species observed when on a trip. For many years in my field excursions I have kept careful lists of the birds seen and identified, and have found these notes to be of subsequent use and pleasure. In college and summer-school work I have always insisted on pupils cultivating the notebook habit, and results have well justified this course. In making notes on a bird that you do not know it is well to state the size by comparing it with some bird you know, as, for example, "smaller than an English Sparrow," "about the size of a Robin," and so on. Try to determine the true colours of the birds and record these. Also note the shape and approximate length of the bill. This, for example, may be short and conical like a Canary's, awl-shaped like the bill of a Warbler, or very long and slender like that of a Snipe. By failing to observe these simple rules the learner may be in despair when he tries to find out the name of his strange bird by examining a bird book, or may cause some kindly friend an equal amount of annoyance. {10} Heads and feet of various birds As a further aid to subsequent identification it is well to record the place where the bird was seen, for example: "hopping up the side of a tree," "wading in a marsh," "circling about in the air," or "feeding on dandelions." Such secondary information, while often a valuable aid to identification, would in itself hardly be sufficient to enable an ornithologist to render the service desired. That a young correspondent of mine entertained a contrary view was evident from a letter I received a few weeks ago from an inexperienced boy enthusiast, who was a member of a newly formed nature-study class. Here is the exact wording of the communication: "Dear Sir: 10 A. M. Wind East. Cloudy. Small bird seen on ground in orchard. Please name. P. S. All the leaves have fallen." Reporting Blanks.—A convenient booklet of reporting blanks and directions for using them is issued by the National Association of Audubon Societies, New York City. This is very useful in recording descriptions of birds. (See sample, page 13.) The blanks may be sent to the office of the National Association and the species described will be named. {12} Sample page of reporting-blank {14} Bird Books.—There are a number of inexpensive books which contain illustrations of birds in natural colours. One of these will be of the greatest aid to the beginner in bird study. Among the most useful are the Reed's, "Bird Guides," one covering the birds of the eastern and the other those of the western part of the United States. The pictures alone will be of great use in learning the names of feathered neighbours, while an intelligent study of the text
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